Choosing a Ski School
Our main piece of advice to parents taking kids skiing for the first time is to throw money at your childrens’ ski lessons (or childcare package) rather than spend it on unnecessarily chic accommodation. Happy children mean happy parents so getting a good ski school/instructor is the secret to a successful holiday.
Don’t try and teach them yourself! Special childrens’ instructors know how to get the best out of your child on snow, through a wide range of fun and games, and follow-the-leader teaching to entertain the children whilst simultaneously teaching the basics of skiing in an animated and enjoyable way. Many resorts have themed snow gardens with ‘magic carpet’ ski travelators and mini slalom courses for tiny children.
It is important, however, to get the ski class/language right.There’s little point in shoving your child into a group lesson where they understand little and learn less. Believe us, as each day goes on, you’ll feel increasingly guilty as you shove your reluctant children into their ski class, and then worry about them so much it spoils your enjoyment of the slopes. We’ve all been there! Yet get it right and your kids will be keen to go to ski school and, before you know it, they’ll be overtaking you on the slopes. Factors to consider include how the ski school structures its learning programmes, how many kids per group, and the age range of the classes.
Book early: Ski schools get totally booked-up very early, particularly during school vacations, so if your kids require lessons, we recommend you BOOK LESSONS FOR ANY BEGINNERS OR CHILDREN AS SOON AS YOU BOOK YOUR HOLIDAY – either by phone or email – to ensure a place in a suitable class or to reserve a private instructor. All too often, family holidays are ruined because classes are full and there are no instructors free for last-minute bookings. Bear in mind also that your school holiday dates may not coincide with local school holidays or those of neighbouring countries, so be sure to plan ahead.
Age to start lessons?We would recommend your kids should be at least 4 years old. Of course children vary hugely – some will be schussing black runs by the end of the week, others will be sliding down the nursery slopes on their bottoms crying. Most can learn the basics of skiing in a week, including snowploughing and how to use a baby drag-lift. Most ski schools start lessons from 4 years; Tiny Tots courses with ESF (École de Ski Française) run from 3-5 years.
Most family-oriented resorts have a Snow Garden or a special Snow Club for very young children, with a special area cordoned off one of the main pistes, for structured play and snow-activities.
Some ski schools offer classes specifically for teenagers, although these usually take place only in school holidays.
Private or group lessons? Private one-to-one lessons are undeniably expensive (and not usually as fun as a group lesson for kids). If you can get a small group of children together, they become more affordable and more flexible. Shop around: sometimes five or six children in a private lesson in one school work out cheaper than a group lesson at another. The instructor may be willing to meet the kids at your chalet, for instance, or to drop them off at your favourite mountaintop restaurant (depending on their other bookings that day). If you are returning to a resort for a second year and your kids especially liked their instructor from the previous holiday, there’s no harm in requesting the same instructor again.
Most ski schools have English-speaking instructors (remember to specify your language at the time of booking).
Some schools offer one-off ‘Ski with Me’ lessons where you can accompany your child on a private lesson, receiving tips from the instructor on how to help your child develop their skiing technique.
A number of ski schools specialise in looking after youngsters during school holidays. Evolution 2 and Oxygène in the Alps offer combined ski lesson and lunch/childcare packages. Be sure to book early!
How long?Lessons typically last two hours each day – and this is plenty of time on the skis for little ones. Bear in mind, however, that means – unless you have help in the form of a grandparent, au pair, nanny or willing friend – most of your holiday will be devoted to child-minding. To avoid this, either choose a tour operator with built-in childcare (such as Crystal or Esprit) or check with the local resort tourist office for crèche, nanny and babysitting facilities, and reserve a place immediately after you’ve booked your holiday.
Older children (6+) can usually manage the rest of the day skiing with you – as long as you are happy to stick to gentle slopes; a nice, slow pace; and plenty of hot chocolate stops.
Morning or afternoon lessons? Afternoon lessons tend to be warmer, cheaper and less subscribed. However, your child may already be tired if they have been skiing with you all morning. Work out what suits you best, consider the season (we would strongly recommend afternoon lessons during chilly January) and check availability at your chosen ski school. The best way for you to organise the right deal for your party is to call or email your chosen ski school. They all speak English.
Further Tips for Parents:
1 Allow plenty of time: Getting children ready for skiing always takes far longer than you think. Make sure you dry and lay out all their clothing the night before and allow plenty of time for tears, runny noses, lost gloves, forgotten ski passes and countless other dramas en route from your accommodation to the ski school – you don’t want them to be late for their lesson! See Six things to do before you go to bed for further advice.
2 Dry ski slopes: If you live near a dry ski slope or a snow dome, it’s well worth booking a couple of lessons for your kids before your ski holiday, to get used to the boots and skis and to pick up one or two basics to give them a head start on the slopes.